Ukrainian-Canadians hosting family members and friends who have fled Russia’s invasion say they are worried about trying to support loved ones with little material support from the federal government, and that Ukrainians without contacts in Canada would have difficulty settling here.
Most Ukrainians fleeing the war leave with very little. When they reach Canada, they need clothes, food and housing, as well as help accessing services, health care and mental-health support.
Anastasiia Hlukhova, 36, who lives in Barrie, Ont., with her husband and two kids, is waiting for five relatives to arrive. She said her parents, sister and niece have fled to Poland and once they have their visas, they will travel to Canada. Ms. Hlukhova also has a nephew in Germany waiting on a visa.
“To be honest I have no idea how it’s going to be, and how it’s going to hit us financially. But that’s what we have to do,” she said.
Ms. Hlukhova said her family rents a three-bedroom townhouse, describing it as a “teeny tiny space” and saying she and her husband will likely move into their unfinished basement to make room.
She wonders what happens to Ukrainians without relatives or friends once they arrive at an airport in Canada. “They’re going to go out the door and have nothing. They don’t have any help. They’re all by themselves,” she said.
The federal government has faced calls to make it easier for Ukrainians to travel to Canada by co-ordinating a special airlift effort from the region. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would consider providing more support, such as airlifts, if there was sufficient demand, but it has yet to do so. Rather, the government has launched a streamlined immigration program for Ukrainians.
The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program eliminates most of the normal visa requirements and allows Ukrainians to stay for up to three years if they pass security checks. The measures are offered through the immigration stream; as a result, Ukrainians are not considered refugees and do not have access to the full range of supports that come with the protected status. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, more than 20,000 Ukrainians have applied for the emergency program.
The federal government is also setting up a family reunification program that would allow relatives in Canada to sponsor family members from Ukraine to move here permanently. Details are expected in the coming weeks.
Last week, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which brings together national, provincial and local Ukrainian-Canadian organizations, called for more federal support. It is urging Ottawa to provide funding for settlement agencies, which could help Ukrainians co-ordinate transport, housing and health care.
In a tweet Monday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Ottawa will expand the federal settlement program to offer services such as language training, orientation and employment assistance. He said the government will also start providing support services for Ukrainians at major airports starting Friday.
However, it is unclear if Ukrainians will be able to access health care services. Since they are not technically considered refugees, Mr. Fraser’s office said they are not eligible for the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides refugees with health care until they qualify for provincial health insurance. Mr. Fraser’s spokesperson, Aidan Strickland, said some Ukrainians with work permits, as well as their families, may be able to access provincial health services.
The Ontario Ministry of Health said Ukrainian evacuees without permanent resident status have access to limited publicly funded health care services, including primary care at Ontario’s Community Health Centres.
Margaryta Pronina, 37, who lives in Barrie with her mother, husband and three children, welcomed her in-laws from Ukraine about two weeks ago.
“The issue is that the majority of Ukrainians, at least that I know, they come with nothing,” she said. Her in-laws arrived with a tiny suitcase with basic medication, underwear and canned food in case they were stuck in Poland without anything to eat.
Ms. Pronina said her in-laws are seniors, with chronic medical issues, and require support. Shortly after they arrived, their whole household got COVID-19. “I was very worried that they might have required some additional medical support and I was horrified thinking that I cannot afford to pay for that.”
She said her in-laws are hoping to return to Ukraine eventually. They didn’t want to leave but her mother-in-law was traumatized by constant explosions close to their apartment. She still fears the sound of noises, Ms. Pronina added.
“A lot of people who may choose to come to Canada, they will also be very traumatized and this is a serious psychological issue that requires support. And currently, the Government of Canada just allows those refugees to stay for three years as temporary residents, but does not provide any significant help. Basically all the expenses are on me and my husband’s shoulders.”
In Vaughan, Ont., Valentyna Navolskyy, 33, is waiting for her childhood friend to arrive along with her two children. She said she will provide them with housing for as long as they need but that if someone doesn’t know anyone in Canada, it would be very difficult for them to settle here.
“If it’s a single parent who has to provide for two children and pay for shelter and pay for anything else, I have no idea how people will do it,” she said.
Kael Campbell, a Victoria-based business owner, is trying to help Ukrainians fleeing war get jobs in Canada. He organized a Facebook group – Canadian Jobs for Ukrainians – to find employers willing to support incoming Ukrainians, with good-paying jobs as well as flights and accommodation.
The group, which has more than 1,200 members, has been connecting employers with Ukrainians who want to work in Canada and have skills that match the job.
Among the members are Ukrainian-Canadians to help moderate the group and individuals with backgrounds in immigration who want to help.
“There’s thousands of jobs being advertised in Canada, but there’s few that would ever consider buying a flight for somebody who might not have perfect English, and they might not be able to stay here long term. But I think there’s lots of employers who are totally willing to foot that bill and really help somebody else as well,” Mr. Campbell said.
With a report from Christian Collington
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